Thursday, July 31, 2008

State Warns of Significant Threat at Maspeth Superfund Site

Contamination Poses Risk to People and Environment

By Conor Greene

An industrial property at 57th Avenue and Grand Avenue in West Maspeth is contaminated by chemicals and could pose a “significant threat to the public and environment,” the state Department of Environmental Conservation warned nearby property owners in a letter.

The two-acre property, now home to Corrugated Box, Inc. and Feldman Lumber, was subjected to “hazardous waste disposal” during the years it was used by the W.L.K Corporation. It was enrolled in the state Superfund program last year, and an initial study conducted this March “detected a significant concentration of chlorinated volatile organic compounds in soil samples” collected on the site, according to the DEC.

According to DEC spokesman Arturo Garcia-Costas, the concentrations of chemicals found, which included Tetrachloroethylene, “suggest a potential continuing source of contamination in this area.” In addition, groundwater samples containing “high levels” of chlorinated volatile organic compounds were collected from wells monitoring groundwater and from samples “down-gradient from this part of the site,” said Garcia-Costas.

As a result of the findings, the DEC sent a letter earlier this month to nearby property owners alerting them of the potential danger. “Based on the presence of contamination onsite... this site poses a significant threat,” the July 14 letter warned. It notes that the site has been classified a Code 2, due to the threat level.

The code classification “means that the contamination uncovered represents a significant threat to the public health or environment, which requires action to address or mitigate this threat be taken by DEC at some point,” explained Garcia-Costas. “A Code 1 designation, on the other hand, means that a site represents an imminent threat to public health or the environment and requires immediate action.”

The next step in the process is for the DEC to conduct “a further investigation and feasibility study... to fully define the nature and extent of the contamination and identify the most appropriate remedial action,” according to Garcia-Costas. Part of the effort is a community outreach plan “to insure that the public is aware and engaged in the cleanup,” said Garcia-Costas. “At each stage in the process, the community is made aware [of what is occurring] and fact sheets are sent out.”

He noted that community-based organizations such as community boards are eligible for a “technical assistance grant,” which provides money to help the public “understand the process and be able to participate in the remedial process in the most informed manner possible,” he said.

The DEC was unable to say how long the lengthy cleanup process will take. The letter urges individuals to share the information with other tenants renting or leasing property near the site. However, the DEC said that human contact with “subsurface contamination is unlikely” since the majority of the property is paved over or built on. The DEC also noted that the groundwater contamination does not pose a danger to the public’s drinking water supply.

While 57th Avenue is now a gravel-filled dead-end road leading from Grand Avenue to the lumber yard, local residents recall that is was formerly a main road through the area, and home to a ballpark in the nineteenth century that stood on the site that is currently houses the box company.

An old house across the street from the businesses belonged to James Maurice, founder of St. Saviour’s church, which until recently was located several blocks away, according to Christina Wilkinson. She noted that the lumberyard’s presence is the only thing preventing as-of-right housing from being built at the St. Saviour’s property on Rust Street.

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